December 5, 2015

Turkish judiciary has turned into gov’t tool to crack down on critics

A growing number of judicial acts targeting critics of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has shown that the country's judiciary has been turned into a government instrument to hunt down its opponents in politically-motivated moves with no evidence against them.

Turkey's judiciary has undergone substantial changes following two corruption probes that were made public on Dec. 17 and Dec. 25, 2013 and implicated senior government members.

The AK Party government's then-prime minister, current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, launched an all-out war against the members of the police force and the judiciary involved in the probes with accusations that they plotted to topple the AK Party government. Since then, the AK Party has been working to reshape the judiciary and the justice system according to its own desires so as to stop the investigations from going any further, to prevent new ones and to punish its enemies.

The police officers, prosecutors and judges who took part in the probes were replaced, suspended and even sent to prison.

To this effect, the AK Party government established the controversial Penal Courts of Peace in the summer of 2014. These courts have received plenty of criticism for empowering their “judges of peace” with extraordinary powers, like the authority to issue search warrants, detain individuals and seize property. It has been alleged that the courts are instruments for enforcing the government's wishes by instigating arrests based on the headlines of pro-government newspapers.

Investigations launched against critics of the government sometimes include elements that reveal their political-motivation and lack of any legal grounds.

For instance, an Ankara prosecutor who asked the Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace to appoint a trustee board to take over the management of Koza İpek Holding in October apparently mistook a money-laundering scheme referred to as the “Smurfs Village” method for an actual neighborhood in Turkey's capital where some of the holding's subsidiaries are supposedly based.

The prosecutor based his request on an expert report that suggested Koza İpek was involved in “smurfing,” or laundering money through small transactions that are carried out through several agents, or smurfs, and thus do not require a financial institution to file a report on the transaction with a government agency.

However, the seemingly confused prosecutor referred to Smurfs Village as a location in Ankara's Yenimahalle district. It says the holding's companies are mostly located at one address, and those that are not at that address are located in Şirinler Köyü (Smurfs Village) in Yenimahalle.

In addition, an indictment filed against Koza İpek Holding, which had provoked government ire due to the critical stance of its media outlets, confused the name of one of Koza's gold mines, Himmetdede, located in Kayseri, with the Turkish noun “donation,” which shares a similar spelling.

Judge Yunus Süer ignored this confusion and approved the appointment of trustees to the holding company.

Another reason for the appointment of the trustees was the discovery of a "parallel accounting system" in the company, which was a backup system to be used if the computers were to crash. The prosecution associated the name of this system with the so-called “parallel structure,” a phrase coined by Erdoğan following the corruption probe to refer to the faith-based Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Erdoğan accuses the movement of scheming to topple his government through the graft probe, despite repeated denials from the movement and a lack of evidence to support the claim.

Indictments thus are no longer legal documents that include valid evidence against suspects, but texts that are filled with stories.

The indictment prepared against those who took part in the Dec. 25 probe is one such text. It is a total of 1,453 pages and is filled with stories about historical and religious characters. There are numerous mentions of Biblical figures such as the sons of Adam, and Lydia; Hittite and Roman civilizations; Orkhon inscriptions, written the Old Turkic Script; and the Ottoman Empire that are all used as evidence to indict the suspects.

The indictment, prepared by prosecutor İsmail Uçar, also includes an article written by pro-government columnist Ferhat Ünlü, in which he talks about the Gollum character in the “The Lord of the Rings” movies.

Judges of the Penal Courts of Peace sometimes use exaggeration in order to take legal action against government critics.

For example, İstanbul 8th Penal Court of Peace Judge Atilla Öztürk, the judge who ruled for the arrest of Nokta magazine editors Cevheri Güven and Murat Çapan last month, claimed Güven and Çapan attempted to instigate an armed rebellion against the government with an article published in the magazine using ironic language; the title of the article was "Survival Kit," published in the magazine following the Nov. 1 snap election, which included items necessary in case a civil war breaks out in the country.

Apart from controversial rulings, some judges and prosecutors have sparked controversy with their messages on social media.

For instance, Ankara public prosecutor Alparslan Karabay, who took part in operations against the police officers who revealed alleged government corruption, posted a controversial tweet following a terrorist attack in Ankara on Oct. 10 that claimed the lives of more than 100 people.

"Two separate explosions in Ankara: There are many dead and injured people. Together with their American colleagues, the Fetö organization turned the Ankara Train Station into a bloodbath," he wrote.

Fetö is a pejorative term used by the government and its supporters to refer to the Gülen movement as a "terrorist organization" despite a lack of any court decision to this effect.

It later turned out that the attack in Ankara was most likely the work of radical terrorist group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

In addition, one of the hundreds of pro-government Twitter trolls, known for their strong online support for the AK Party government and for spreading hate on social media, has turned out to be a judge working at the Justice Ministry.

Muhammet Feyzi Aygün, a member of the pro-AK Party judicial group Unity in the Judiciary Platform (YBP) who has been targeting critics of the AK Party with insults, slander and even profane language, works as an investigatory judge at the Justice Ministry's European Union General Directorate. He became a judge in 2013 and was appointed by the Supreme Board of Judge and Prosecutors (HSYK) to his current post within the last month.

Journalist Abdülhamit Bilici was one of those targeted by Aygün. The judge insulted the journalist after Bilici posted a tweet about a recent assault on journalist Ahmet Hakan. After Bilici replied that he would sue him, the judge deleted his tweet. Bilici then posted a tweet using the judge's profile information indicating that he was a judge. Aygün then deleted his account.

Published on Today's Zaman, 5 December 2015, Saturday